Festival asks student body “What is the price of a free meal?”

Outside the front doors of the Firstenburg Student Commons stood a volunteer with duct tape over her mouth. She held a sign enticing students into the First Amendment Free Food Festival on March 27. Students were met with classical music blaring over the sound system, shouting and earsplitting whistles from enforcers dressed in camouflage, wearing aviators and wielding batons.

This was only part of the scene at the Firstenburg Student Commons on March 27 during the FAFFF event. Audrey Miller, graduate student and editor-in-chief at The VanCougar newspaper, said she wanted to “engage participants and get them to think about and develop an educated understanding of the concept of inalienable rights, and the consequences of living under a government that does not protect or grant them.” Staff members from the VanCougar, KOUG Radio and the Salmon Creek Journal worked together to host the event.

After signing away their First Amendment rights at the doors, students proceeded into the event for pizza and were told to sit at tables restricting conversation to specific topics like Nicolas Cage, how to make paper, the color chartreuse and Nickelback. Students who did not comply with the instructions were met with a blast from whistles followed by shouts commanding them to talk or move to another table to discuss a different topic.

As the event progressed, a few students began to resist the commands/rules and were sent to a handcrafted guarded jail. While being dragged to the jail, student Megan Johnson yelled, “do not sign the paper” at those students entering the event. Natasha Sharer, a volunteer tasked with enforcing the metaphorical deprivation of First Amendment rights said, “I was really excited to volunteer for this event, but when I was met with the reality of having to be forceful with students it was intimidating. Playing the part was not as easy as I had first thought it would be.”

At the event, a section of the commons was dedicated to censoring members of the media from taking photos or conducting interviews. Media members from KOUG Radio and The VanCougar were required to stay in the boundaries of the media zone and were taken to jail when found in violation of the regulations.

At one of the discussion tables Kara Macrae-Smith, a public affairs major at WSU Vancouver said, “[First Amendment rights] are something taken for granted every day. Not everyone has these rights granted to them by their government’s in the world. We as students have The VanCougar, KOUG Radio, and The Salmon Creek Journal on campus, but we could just as easily not if it were not for our rights.”

The intent of the FAFFF was to educate students on the five inalienable rights protected by the First Amendment. Freedoms of press, speech, to peaceably assemble, petition for a governmental redress of grievances and exercise religion, were metaphorically infringed on by permission of the students at the event.

During a conversation within the prison, Peter Collier said, “It is good to bring to light these issues through events like this.” In the discussion earlier with Macrae-Smith, she “said the event was an interesting and creative way for students to learn about their First Amendment rights. This event allows people to get emotionally involved in learning, because someone is literally in your face yelling at you.”

For anyone looking to read up on their First Amendment rights or rights as students, studentaffairs.vancouver.wsu.edu/student-affairs/policy-violations has a list of policies and protected rights for students. Any VanCougs interested in using their First Amendment rights and getting their voice heard on campus can explore the options of joining or starting a club related to their passions, i.e. exercising their First Amendment rights.

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